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March 3, 2013

Would You Want to Know He Cheated?

We already just wrote a very very long post about all the crap that was printed in the February issue of Cosmopolitan magazine... but would you believe it, we're not done! In the Love, Lust & Other Stuff section there's yet another pile of garbage article entitled "Would You Want to Know He Cheated?"
Maybe not: Sometimes the confession can be as cruel as the infidelity. Benjamin Anastas tells us why he wishes he had never come clean.
This is so bad, it's hard to believe it wasn't written by Jessica Knoll or Ky Henderson. Really, it's that bad.

First of all, the article itself never really address the question in the title. The title asks "would you want to know"? But the question that the article answers is actually "should you tell?" which is very different. They don't ever consider the point of view of the person who has been cheated on. It's told from the point of view of a man who cheated and the entire page is just one long self-serving rationalization for dishonesty. 
Then I cheated. It happened far away, at a high-rise hotel in a cold European city, in a white box of a room with thick curtains that blocked out light and sound. Those curtains stopped time. In the security line at the airport, it hit me: I had to walk through the door, put down my suitcase, and tell her. I thought I owed her that. Every time I'm in an airport now, I can feel that feel that old panic returning, and then I remember: That's what it felt like when I cheated on my fiancee. Before she became my wife.
He doesn't explain what led to his infidelity. A rash decision? A drunken mistake? A calculated choice? Only that it happened and it didn't occur to him that he might need to tell his fiancee until he got to the airport.

Of course, it doesn't happen that way.
To be honest, I wasn't strong enough. So I went back to work, brought groceries, cooked her lavish dinners, went to the gym an extra day a week.
Nope, he doesn't walk through the door, put down his suitcase, and tell her.  Instead he keeps it a secret.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.

"No nothing's wrong," I lied.

It was two months before I finally let it all pour out. I hadn't been sleeping. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had a persistent rash that I thought might be an STD (it wasn't). It seemed like a golden dream now, the safe and comfortable life we'd had, and I was convinced that the only way for us to get it back would be for me to open up.
He waited two months to tell her. Just want to make sure that's clear. Two months. He didn't tell her because it was the right thing to do or because she deserved to know. He did it to calm his own guilty conscience. He couldn't sleep, couldn't concentrate... he hoped telling her would help that. His telling her was as selfish as cheating in the first place was.

That's the thing about cheating. It's not just that you're breaking your commitment to be faithful. It's also a betrayal -- lies and secrecy. He didn't just sleep with someone else; he lied to his fiancee (either directly or indirectly, by omission) every single day for two months. That's not just one indiscretion. That is at least sixty lies (if you estimate one lie a day for two months).

It's also extremely disturbing that he says he thought he had an STD because it implies that he waited until he got the rash to get tested. No, wait, he waited until the rash became persistent to get tested. So he cheated, possibly exposing himself to an STD, and instead of telling his fiancee immediately (or at the very least, secretly getting tested right away just to be sure), he potentially risked his girlfriend's health for two months.
I can still see her, propped on her pillows, squinting at a copy of The New Yorker. She was wearing an ancient, frayed U2 concert tee shirt. She had no idea.

"We need to talk," I said.

She looked up. 
Again, he leaves out the details, that might be relevant. How did he tell her? Did he just blurt it out? Did he tell her matter-of-factly? Did she cry? Did he cry? Did he get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness? We have no idea if he did an adequate job of apologizing or if he was insensitive about it. We have no idea if he gave her all the details or just left it as a vague confession. Maybe it shouldn't matter, but in some ways it does. Since this whole story is about whether or not one should confess to cheating... isn't the quality of that confession relevant?
That was nine years ago. We've been divorced for five. She tried to forgive me and went through with our wedding, but on the other side, she got me back by having an affair. We tried to reconcile, but it is not easy to rebuild trust once it's been violated. 
No, it's not easy to rebuild trust once it's been violated. Of course, yet again, we have no details on whether he actually made a decent effort to regain her trust. He says "she tried to forgive me" but what did he do? Hopefully, he does realize that the rebuilding of trust should've started on his end. Did he do anything to prove himself? A confession alone isn't enough to fix things; an apology means nothing without actions to back it up.

There's often a big misconception in relationships that the confession/apology is supposed to make everything all better. 'I told you what happened! I said I'm sorry! What more do you want from me?' But that's not how it works. You confess, because the other person deserves to know and deserves the right to make an informed decision about whether they want to be with you. You run the risk of them making a decision that you don't want; you run the risk of losing them. But if you can't be honest with them, then you shouldn't be with them in the first place. We all make mistakes and it is in coming clean that you give yourself the opportunity to make amends for your mistakes and be forgiven. If you are worth forgiving - and do the work that is required to earn that forgiveness, to rebuild that trust, to prove yourself - then you may be rewarded for your honesty. But lying for two months doesn't exactly foster confidence. A confession that comes two months after the fact is going to be too little, too late for a lot of people.
I wonder, standing outside, if we'd still be married if I'd just let her go on reading her magazine that night and kept my infidelity to myself. It's not an appealing thought, that dishonesty can sometimes be the answer--that it can be less damaging to maintain a lie--but I know that being honest about cheating can wreck lives.
No. Dishonesty is not the answer. It was the two months that he maintained the lie that was damaging, not the decision to reveal it. It was the cheating that wrecked their lives, not being honest about the cheating. Way to learn the wrong fucking lesson asshole!
I felt guilty, and I wanted to be forgiven before we married. Was telling her the right thing to do, or did I compound my infidelity with another selfish act? Some part of me thinks it would have been bigger of me--and better of me as a future husband--to walk down the aisle with her as if nothing had happened in that hotel room. 
He has a point. His confession was motivated by selfishness. He confessed for the wrong reasons, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do. Of course, it was the wrong time. He should've told her immediately after it happened. Keeping it a secret for two months was selfish. Keeping it a secret forever would've been even worse. In no way would that have made him "bigger" or "better"... except maybe a bigger asshole. I do understand that the motivation to confess secrets often comes from a selfish reason ('I need to free myself of this guilt') instead of doing what's right ('she deserves to know the truth'). But that doesn't mean that the act is wrong, just the motivation is wrong. The truth - given kindly and appropriately and timely - is always better than a lie. When it comes to infidelity, there is no scenario in which I think that lying and secrecy are the better choice (nor do I think that it would ever make the cheater a 'better person' for lying).

Anastas is making the wrong connection here. He thinks that his marriage ended because he confessed, but the truth is, it ended because he didn't confess soon enough. The message of the article is "don't tell" but I think the real lesson should be "don't wait to tell." Cheating is bad, but it is one impulsive act (unless we're talking about an on-going affair, which is a whole other issue). The real hurt and betrayal come from the continued dishonesty. The repeated act of dishonesty and disrespect every single day. That is a bigger slap in the face than anything.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Love Actually, when Emma Thompson's character discovers that her husband may have cheated. He says "Oh, God. I am so in the wrong. The classic fool." And she replies: "Yes, but you've also made a fool out of me, and you've made the life I lead foolish too." Every day that Anastas declined to tell his fiancee what happened, every day that she had no idea what he had done, was one more day that she was made to feel foolish about. When she said "I love you" or asked "what's wrong?" and he said nothing, it was a repeated betrayal so deep that it's almost like he's cheating on her all over again.

I know this much: There is no way to press rewind and undo the hurt you've caused another. I lost a marriage when I cheated and confessed. Who knows? It could have been a good one.
No Benjamin, you lost a marriage when you cheated. Period. You could have saved the marriage if you had done right by your fiancee, but you didn't. It would never have been a good one, because you are not a good one.